Matti Friedman and Pumpkinflowers

I learned yesterday that Matti Friedman, author of Pumpkinflowers, will be in Washington, D.C. next month. My editor at the Washington Independent Review of Books gave me Matti’s email address, so I sent him a message asking to meet him.

Last year, I reviewed his new book, Pumpkinflowers, drawn from his time in the Israeli army defending a hill called the Pumpkin. In radio communications with the troops’ command post, they used the cover term “flowers” for those wounded in combat. By extension, “pumpkin flowers” are those damaged by the operation.

After the completion of his military service, Friedman returned to the Pumpkin under the guise of a tourist. He found the Pumpkin deserted. His reaction: “For a time this hill was worth our lives, but even the enemy seemed to know that now it was worth nothing at all. That seems like a universal lesson for a soldier.”

I started my review of the book with these words:

“This book hurt. I think it will hurt anyone who has seen combat. It brings back memories we try to bury. It makes us realize that war is hideous wherever it occurs and that a combatant’s unspeakable experiences are universal. We never talk about them. Maybe if we did, we’d find out that others, in other wars, other cultures, other nations across the earth, have gone through the same gruesome ordeals. And for what?”

That was my question after the fall of Vietnam. For what have we done this? Or as Sparky puts it to Chuck in Last of the Annamese, ““Did it have to end like this? After 58,000 American military dead, at least a million Communist soldiers, and who knows how many million civilians? Chuck, what the hell have we done?”

Matti wrote his story in Pumpkinflowers. I wrote mine in Last of the Annamese. My sense is that he and I share the bitter cynicism and hurt of combat veterans. That makes him my brother. I hope I have the good fortune to spend a little time with him.

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